Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Got Them Masked Busker Blues


THERE’S something altogether apposite about the presence of buskers on the London Underground. After all, they are as a rule an underground sort of breed; a tad off-beat, unconventional, enviably independent. Modern-day wandering minstrels untrammelled by routine; above all, unimpeded – in an innocent sense – by the petty dictates of officialdom.      

Their role is deceptively incidental to the subterranean commuter-scape. They remind us of the immaterial, the playful; theirs is an ages-old implicit injunction, amidst the automation and artificiality, to stay human.         

Thus the muzzled, dehumanised Underground busker has, for the past 16 months, presented one of the most incongruous images of the whole absurd Covid montage. Granted, not matching the cruelty of the masked care-home resident, or the pointlessness of the face-covered schoolchild; but still, a revealing and poignant vignette of newly authoritarian Britain.

Following the Prime Minister’s recent evasion of responsibility concerning mask-wearing from July 19, control-freak local politicians and officials have earnestly stepped forward to perpetuate the keeping-each-other-safe fraud. With depressing predictability, London mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London have indicated that the capital’s commuters, and buskers on the Underground, may need to continue wearing a mask.

It’s a depressing prospect, but there remains a spark of hope in those gloomy subways. As we know, the corporate music industry has, with the chips down, shown its true conformist colours. Perhaps now is the time, then, for a busker-led phenomenon of protest-song replacement, coalescing seditiously around the theme of visage-concealment.

Make way, Blowin’ in the Wind, for the Beatles’ I’ve Just Seen a Face. Step aside, Give Peace a Chance, for Dean Martin’s I’d Grown Accustomed To Her Face (tense subversively tweaked).

And if the dystopian vision of Sage’s Professor Michie is realised, that daddy of protest anthems, John Lennon’s Imagine, could be knocked off its perch by the Bee Gees’ You’ll Never See My Face Again.

Welcome to (more of) Covid Britain. Stand well clear of the platform, please; this nation’s sanity has already departed.  

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Stuart Major
Stuart Major
Stuart Major is an independent scholar based in Sussex.

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